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VIPUL KUMAR: India's Stoneware Sculptor

Vipul Kumar, working in porcelain and stoneware, creates a corollary of conversations that define his deep explorations into the paradigms of sensations and aesthetics.

Imagine a sculptor who works on stone sculptures in an obscure studio situated near the wollastonite mines in Rajasthan. He works on creating dynamics in design that go back to the nirgun poet Kabir, to Indian literary texts and even dabbles a bit in Buddhist ideologies. After creating monoliths in sandstone, he steps into the domains of stoneware. What ensues are forms and ceramic ware that bring back the epoch of antiquity even as we look at forms that are at once original, inventive and deeply ingenious. Vipul Kumar as an artist works in porcelain as well as stoneware to create a corollary of conversations that define his deep explorations in the paradigms of sensations as well as aesthetics.

Archetypal artefact

At India's first ceramic Trienniale opening at Jawahar Kala Kendra at Jaipur on August 31, one of the largest works will be a monumental stoneware work Nature Signature (356 cm x 118 cm x 52 cm) that celebrates the past and the present. The first glance says it looks like an archetypal porous asymmetrical sculpture that has a velvety matte finished quality along with a robust terracotta like resonance. Structurally, a wood-fired stoneware sculpture, it resembles an ancient artefact with its crusty exterior. This work is unique in its ability to appear skeletal, but at the same time, metaphorical.

Purush Prakriti

When you look at Vipul's pieces, there is a subtle focus on literary and social realities and historical appropriation. Nature Signature is a drooping mass of tactile matte-glazed drips spilling over the sides of the simple bar like terracotta-toned bases — "This work was born out of my experiments with global warming done in porcelain," explains Vipul. "My work is essentially about deconstructing traditional ceramic practices, so I create really rough, unconventional forms because I am looking at contemporary reality. If nature itself is disappearing, what is left of man? After all, Purush-Prakriti is the law of life. "

Equally enticing is Vipul's installation at the Ahmedabad Private Estate entitled Mount Meru. Vipul brings to it an aesthetic rigour that is both rare and deeply meditative. This work at the Ahmedabad Private Estate is akin to recalling an archaeology of memory. When lit up, the tall columns with mystic signatures not only sensitively highlight the opacity and translucency but also the delicacy of the materials, to create a satisfying balance between shape, proportion and space. "I worked on cosmic commentaries in Jain scriptures and symbolism," states Vipul.

Earth Memory

Vipul proves ceramics isn't just clay. At Gallery Espace's show Earth Memory, his work Moonscape looks like a piece of moon rock that talks of the process of memory and its disappearance to geological transformations. Colour design and technical execution are paramount dictates in Vipul's vocabulary. "I use porcelain glazes and fire at 1350 degrees," says Vipul who uses a melange of minerals like feldspar, silica, dolomite, iron, cobalt, wollastonite and zinc amongst others. "I rely on chemistry, alchemy and an element of hazard and risk, both in porcelain as well as clay," states Vipul.

"In my work with porcelain, I am very aware of its sensitive structure, it is very brittle. Clay is solid in a way that an abstract painted form is not. You cannot work with stoneware and porcelain without knowing the challenges of clay. My work is a commentary of human activity on earth, so when I create abstract forms I focus on the earthy, taking form out of formless mud and going back to it, having gone through fire, water and shaping it into forms that don't belong to contemporary reality."

At another level, Vipul is also looking at abstraction as a language to overturn the object as a utilitarian irrelevance, for only then can new technical potential be born. Vipul is deeply interested in the minerals that go into the glazes, and in the possibilities of the forms of solid geometry as well as amorphous shapes in stoneware and porcelain. At Espace, his works stand as a class apart as he stands as a witness to the testimony that the story of sculptural ceramics must be individual, ingenious and distinct.

Vipul created his own wood-firing oven and facilities to prepare his own clays or fire in reduction, in which techniques had to be reassessed using prepared stoneware and kiln firings. "The largest wood firing kiln is at Ray Meeker's studio in Pondicherry," says Vipul. Adding, "I needed to make one to do my work in the North, so I now fire my works in my own kiln. Firing ceramic work in a kiln using wood as fuel can take several hours or many days, depending on the size of the kiln and the desired temperature to be attained. The wood fires usually take five days of continual stoking and the kiln reaches about 1400 degrees C (2500 degrees F). I generally fire at 1350 degrees for high-fired porcelain glazes. During the fire, as the wood combusts, it produces fly ash and some volatile salts and minerals, which ultimately fuse with the silica on the surface of the ceramic pieces in the kiln, forming a glaze. The placement of each piece in the kiln determines the effects of the fire on the appearance of the sculptural stoneware or porcelain."

Again, what emerges is Vipul's arduous labour, eye for perfection and his technical understanding as he devises slips saturated with fluxes such as zinc oxide and a range of softly-toned glazes that were perfectly in tune with the forms. Rough-hewn and born of earthly insights, Vipul Kumar stands apart as a contemporary ceramicist who is able to seamlessly merge modern elements of firing, techniques, glazes and materials with present-day practices and literary allusions to maintain a unique Indianesque aesthetic.

Ceramic lovers in Delhi can see Vipul Kumar's works at Gallery Espace.

Jawahar Kala Kendra in collaboration with the Contemporary Clay Foundation presents the first Indian Ceramics Triennale: Breaking Ground, from August 31 to November 18, 2018. It will present 35 Indian and 12 international artist projects, and 10 collaborations. Breaking Ground has developed and grown under the advice and experience of Peter Nagy (Director, Nature Morte Gallery), Ray Meeker (Co-Founder, Golden Bridge Pottery, Pondicherry, renowned artist and educator) and Pooja Sood (Director General, Jawahar Kala Kendra).

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